A Seminole Middle School lunchtime scuffle over rainbow Pride flags has ended with several students suspended amid a social media push to deem the incident a hate crime.
The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the clash, which occurred Friday, and said it would not provide any information until it has concluded its review.
School district officials, meanwhile, said they spent the four-day holiday weekend looking into the matter and responded as quickly as possible, given the number of children involved in the skirmish, which was captured partially on video and shared on Twitter.
District spokeswoman Isabel Mascareñas said Seminole principal Michael Moss learned the situation occurred during an outdoor lunch period, which teachers had given to their students as a year-end reward.
The children broke into smaller groups, she said, and one of those groups displayed several Pride flags at its table. One student wore a larger flag around their shoulders.
Students from another group came up and took several of the flags, Mascareñas said, and got into a tug of war over them. One student would not let go and fell.
Twitter user @Mermaid_Lover_, who could not be reached, wrote that her sibling Leo was dragged to the ground, “stomped on, and covered in water just for wearing a pride flag at school.”
She called for “justice for Leo,” and said the family would pressure law enforcement for added action beyond the students’ suspension. Some of those students will be reassigned to an alternative school, Mascareñas said.
“The students’ behavior was inappropriate and unacceptable, and they were disciplined for it,” she said. “Pinellas County schools does not tolerate this behavior.”
Mascareñas would not provide any names or the number of students involved, except to say it was between five and 10.
The school, she said, is in contact with the families involved and has provided a safety plan for one student, giving them an adult to contact when they feel bullied or unsafe.
One family sought help from U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, whose office reached out to the school.
“Administrators at Seminole Middle assured my office that disciplinary action was being pursued, and I hope the students in question will be able to learn from this and do better in future,” Crist said in a statement.
In the aftermath of the activity, principal Moss instructed all Seminole teachers to review the school’s core values of respect, tolerance, cooperation and diversity. He planned to implement a new bullying prevention program in the fall.
Seminole Middle School also came under fire this spring for a separate bullying incident against a girl who told the School Board she was harassed for wearing a mask and hat bearing a Donald Trump logo. The girl’s parents complained several times that the school initially did nothing to respond to their daughter’s troubles.
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One week ago, Seminole Middle was honored as a National School of Character.
“The educators at these schools model and reinforce the core values of respect and dignity,” Dr. Arthur Schwartz, President of Character.org, said in a media release.